Chamber President Benton Speaks to Optimists
Bob Benton, who succeeded Arnie Wishnick as Chamber of Commerce president last summer, spoke at the February 5 Optimist Club meeting at the Palisades Presbyterian Church.
He spoke about the “old” village—the area south of Sunset between Monument and Via de la Paz–and the “new” village, Caruso’s Palisades Village, but emphasized, “They are both our town.” He noted that “one side of the street is young and savvy, and the other side is not so young, not so saavy, but has roots.”
The current thinking for branding the Chamber is using the expression “Our Town,” which would include both sides of Sunset.
Benton told the Optimists that the Chamber remodel was done without using any Chamber funds (thanks to a $20,000 donation from Caruso plus pro bono work by Chamber members).
“We’ve created a new board and we provide value for our members,” he said.
One contentious issue in town last December came when the Chamber replaced its venerable Holiday Ho!Ho!Ho! with the Holiday Stroll. Benton admitted that announcing the decision wasn’t handled as smoothly as it might have been, but that Ho!Ho!Ho! helped only a couple of businesses in town and never benefited the Chamber financially.
The Holiday Stroll made the Chamber money (each participating merchant had to pay $250), Benton said, and also beautified the sidewalks with miniature Christmas trees that were placed in front of the participating businesses.
One Chamber member had told Circling the News that she appreciated how the Fancy Feet dancers and Gerry Blanck’s martial arts students had performed in the Regal Cleaners parking lot during the stroll, because it brought more families into town.
“The Holiday Stroll will be bigger next year,” Benton promised.
He said the “Dancing with the Stars” Chamber installation gala was a success with co-mayors Billy and Janice Crystal and Joe Mantegna as judges. Local architect Richard Blumenberg was installed as the new board chair, succeeding realtor Susan Payne.
Upcoming events include the Chamber’s speaker series on February 28, which will feature Pepperdine’s Associate Vice President of Integrated Marketing Communications Matt Midura. The talk will take place in the Bay Theater from 8 to 9:30 a.m. This will be the first of four speakers planned this year.
Benton said that Caruso was going to announce on Tuesday this week that there will be special tickets to the Genesis Open and that people purchasing them will be able to park in the Palisades Village lot and be taken by limousine to the Riviera.
Benton was asked if service clubs should join the Chamber, since the emphasis is now on business. That’s a fair question, he replied, but did not give a definitive answer.
He was asked if Chamber Mixers were going to continue. “We’re trying to upgrade them,” he said, explaining that as a merchant (Bentons Sports Shop) he had hosted them, but it was always the same small group of people showing up. “We’re charging for them now and we’re asking for the hosts to upgrade them.” He said that several businesses have already lined up to host them.
One Optimist inquired whether businesses in Caruso’s Palisades Village had joined the Chamber.
“Caruso bought them a three-month package and I’m trying to market to them now,” Benton said, noting that Caruso prefers his own marketing methods to a Chamber of Commerce. Benton said that Marissa Hermer (Draycott) and Peter Garland (Porta Via) have joined the Chamber board.
Benton was asked how the businesses were doing at Caruso’s Village. “I don’t know,” he said, but “the restaurants are killing it.” He explained that any time a mall opens it takes a while for the stores to establish themselves and pointed to the Palisades Drive Center just north of Sunset. “How many different stores have we seen go in there?”
“There are going to be stores that are not going to survive,” Benton acknowledged, referring to Palisades Village.
He was asked how the old businesses in town were doing. “Haven’t seen much change, yet,” Benton said.
“Is there a chance of getting a hardware store?” one person asked.
Benton replied, “Not a chance. There is about as much chance as getting a sporting goods store,” the business he owned for more than 30 years.
One Optimist said, “Amazon put Katie [Village Books] out of business and now they’re in town.”
“Amazon is not a classic book store,” Benton replied. “They don’t have to make money from books.”
One Optimist said that he had been told that some of the stores in Caruso’s Village were trying it on a trial basis.
Benton said he didn’t know, but there was a possibility that pop-up stores could be coming this summer.